Just when it looked as though the Cincinnati Bengals had turned a corner, their inconsistent form reared its ugly head.  This season, they have beaten heavyweights in the form of the San Francisco 49ers, Buffalo Bills, and the Seattle Seahawks. But it’s in the games that they’re expected to win – and win comfortably – that they have struggled. 

In the opening week of the season, they were crushed by their local rival Cleveland Browns. Their fellow AFC North contemporaries ran out convincing 24-3 winners in a lopsided affair. To make matters worse, superstar quarterback Joe Burrow was restricted to a paltry 82 throwing yards. They lost again against the Baltimore Ravens on week two in a much tighter contest, before they were handed yet another thumping on week four by the lowly Tennessee Titans. 

Houston Texans Rip Up the Script 

But since then, Cincy had looked to flex its muscles and catapult itself back into Lombardi contention. The aforementioned victories against the 49ers, Bills, and Seahawks did plenty to lift the spirits at Paycor Stadium. A second home game on the spin, this time against the Houston Texans, was a contest that the Bengals were expected to dominate. But the rapidly improving Texans ripped up the script. 

Visiting quarterback C.J. Stroud is already in contention for rookie of the year honors, and a further 356 throwing yards – including one passing touchdown – and one rushing touchdown will have helped his case no end. His performance was scintillating and he helped a much-improved Texans side to a 30-27 victory, leaving them with a winning record for the first time in over 18 months. 

But while things are looking up at NRG Stadium, the Bengals have been sent back to the drawing board once more. The latest NFL spreads price the Bengals at +1100 fourth favorites for the Lombardi, indicating that it isn’t yet time to push the panic button. But with testing fixtures against the likes of the Ravens, Jaguars, Chiefs, and Browns on the horizon, the nerves may well have begun to jangle. 

But this isn’t the first time the Bengals have lost four of their first nine fixtures. In fact, they began each of the previous two campaigns with the exact same record. And here is how they ended. 

First Super Bowl Appearance in 33 Years 

Back in the 2021 season, the Bengals started in a similar fashion. However, back then they were an unknown entity. Jackpot Joey had been drafted first overall the previous year but an injury issue limited his game time in his maiden campaign. He more than made up for it in his second. 

After sitting on a 5-4 record on gameweek ten – which happened to be their bye week – Cincy would pick up back-to-back victories against the Steelers and the Raiders. Then, they suffered consecutive defeats on home turf against the Chargers and the 49ers. But that proved to be the kick up the backside that the Bengals needed. 

Three straight victories against the Broncos, the Ravens, and the heavyweight Chiefs secured them a playoff spot with a game to spare. Once there, they would win their first postseason game in 30 years by knocking off the Raiders in the wildcard round. 

That set up a tussle with the Titans in the Divisional round and they would head to Nissan Stadium in Nashville and secure a narrow 19-16 victory and a spot in the AFC Championship game. No one expected them to succeed against the Chiefs, especially at Arrowhead Stadium, but a Burrow masterclass kept the Bengals in the tie, allowing Evan McPherson to sink an overtime field goal to secure the victory. 

Their trip to the Super Bowl would end in heartbreak. Cooper Kupp’s last-gasp touchdown was enough to secure the victory for the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium. But even reaching the Big Game was an achievement in itself. 

Back-to-back Conference Championship Games 

A one-sided 32-13 defeat against the Cleveland Browns on gameweek eight saw the Bengals slip to 4-4 last season. They would immediately bounce back with victory against the lowly Carolina Panthers and headed into their bye week rejuvenated. Once their campaign got back underway on week 11, the Bengals never looked back. 

They reeled off seven consecutive victories (plus one no-contest) to finish the campaign as the NFL’s form team. In the playoffs, they would secure the divisional title against the Ravens, setting up a date with the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium, a contest that the hosts were widely expected to win. In fact, the NFL was so confident that they had begun selling tickets for a neutral venue AFC Championship game between the Chiefs and the Bills. 

But unfortunately for them, Burrow had other ideas, delivering yet another masterclass to secure a 27-10 victory and a spot in the conference championships for the second straight year. Unfortunately, Patrick Mahomes and his Chiefs would have their revenge, despite Joe Brrrr providing that he may very well be the best quarterback in the league. Here’s to hoping he can have a similarly strong finish to the 2023 season.